Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suspended his presidential campaign Saturday night after a disappointing finish in the South Carolina GOP primary.
"I’m proud of the campaign that we have run to unify the country. And to advocate for conservative solutions that would give more Americans the opportunity to rise up and reach their God-given potential. But the people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken. I respect their decision. So, tonight, I am suspending my campaign," Bush told supporters, in remarks distributed by his campaign.
Bush brought to the campaign an unrivaled political operation and dominated not just national fundraising but the donor landscape in his native Texas. But over the course of the past year, he steadily lost momentum and his footing as the party’s front-runner.
The Bush demise struck a chord among Texas Republican operatives, many of whom came up through the ranks with the rise of his brother, former President George W. Bush, to the governor’s mansion and eventually to the White House.
Plenty of political observers faulted Bush’s performance as a candidate, often coming off as awkward on the campaign trail. But Austin-based political consultant Ted Delisi, who once worked for George W. Bush, said it was mostly a matter of the wrong candidate at the wrong time.
“There are times when the audience wants to hear Jimi Hendrix and you’re playing John Denver,” Delisi said. “There’s nothing necessarily you can do about that, and you are who you are.”
Delisi is unaligned in this presidential race.
Bush spent two terms as governor of Florida, from 1999-2007, and built his political career in Miami. Despite his Florida ties, he was the last presidential candidate standing who was actually born in the state of Texas. (U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Canada before moving as a small child with his family to Houston.)
But even Texas loomed over his ambitions, and a dismal finish here could have hurt his son, state Land Commissioner George P. Bush. There was a very real possibility that the elder Bush could have finished a distant fifth place here, dinging a once-dominant family brand in the state.
There was no indication that his home state would deliver him many delegates on March 1, if any, as Texas Republicans head to the polls during early voting.
Most Texas operatives interviewed for this story agreed that recent internal polling among campaigns up and down the ballot showed Cruz with local and statewide leads, followed by real estate magnate Donald Trump and Bush’s intra-state rival and former protege, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
The immediate repercussion in Texas will be what happens to Bush’s vast network of donors and bundlers. His super PAC alone had at least a dozen $1 million donors with names such as Ray Hunt, Trevor Rees-Jones, John L. Nau III and Robert McNair — top state GOP donors.
The network is so vast it’s hard to assume there will be a monolithic movement to a single candidate. Some could end up with Cruz, but the widely held assumption in the political class is these donors will mostly be attracted to Rubio.
That was also the reasoning two weeks ago, when Bush had a weak finish in the Iowa caucuses. But then Rubio stumbled the following Saturday night at a GOP presidential debate, and Bush finished ahead of Rubio in the New Hampshire primary, buying himself some time to compete in South Carolina.
But despite last-ditch campaign help from his brother, the former president, Bush was unable to put together any sort of a win — moral or outright.
Jolie McCullough contributed to this report.